Young Canadians are going back to the family farm to do what they love: produce made-in-Canada food for Canadians
Like some of her friends and neighbours before her, Nova Scotia egg farmer Geneve Newcombe watched her son David go off to university in search of what he wanted to do with his life and wondered if he would ever come back to the farm.
For nine generations, the Newcombes have farmed at Cornwallis Farms, near Port Williams, N.S. The farm, established in 1761, has laying hens, broiler chickens, dairy cows and crops.
At the end of his first year studying commerce, David came home and said that he had decided on his future: He wanted to be the tenth generation to work on the farm after finishing his degree in commerce.
“For us, working on the family farm is a wonderful experience,” says Newcombe, noting “the joy and pride in being able to provide neighbours and others with a fresh local product, whether it’s eggs or milk.”
Egg farming is hard work but Newcombe says it is all worthwhile. A farm is a great place to raise children, she says, and building something for the next generation is gratifying.
University of Waterloo history professor Bruce Muirhead, who studies agricultural policy, says while there is a decline of family farms in other countries, Canada’s system of supply management keeps the tradition of family farming alive because of the stability it provides.
“Sadly, in the U.S., farmer income has fallen since 2013. And it is continuing downward,” says Muirhead, who is also the Egg Farmers of Canada Chair in Public Policy. “It is absolutely unsustainable.”
In the United States and in countries such as Australia, there is a move in the industry toward consolidation into a smaller number of large-scale agribusinesses.
Meanwhile, in Canada, about 88 per cent of farms are family corporations, according to Statistics Canada’s most recent figures. This is in addition to sole proprietor farms.
But, still, less than 2 per cent of Canadians are farming the food that the rest of us eat, according to Statistics Canada’s latest figures. That’s a tall order for a small portion of our population.
And eggs are in demand. In fact, Canadians like them so much that there has been a steady increase in demand over the last 12 years, according to Egg Farmers of Canada, which represents the interests of regulated egg farmers from coast to coast.
There was a 6-per-cent growth in retail sales of table eggs in 2018 alone, and forecasts show that consumer demand for eggs and egg products will continue to grow, according to Egg Farmers of Canada.
Families like the Newcombes seem to be looking at a bright future and they attribute this success to the stability of the system of supply management. Supply management was set up in 1972 and allows egg, poultry and dairy farmers to maintain the financial stability to operate farms on a smaller scale, as well as to invest, Muirhead says. It’s also a system that keeps the tradition of family farming alive.
The system is designed to ensure that farms can be profitable and Canadian consumers can have access to a high-quality, secure supply of those products. “I think it works very well for both Canadian farmers and consumers.”
“Supply management gives us the confidence that we know we will get a fair price for the product … and we can continue to invest in and improve the farm,” Newcombe says.
The family put in a solar wall on one of the chicken barns and they are looking at a new housing system for the laying hens. With David back on the farm, Geneve sees many opportunities on the horizon.
No one would argue that farming is a demanding job. The day begins with a walk through the layer barn to check feed, water consumption, the condition of the hens, temperature and that all equipment is performing well, says Newcombe. “We do some cleaning and regular maintenance. Eggs are collected and stored in the cooler each day. Every few days we make feed for the hens.” And in winter, they plow the snow to make sure the egg trucks get in.
“It is a 365-day job. You need to have people who can take over if you want to take a week off,” she says. “After Christmas dinner, someone has to collect the eggs.”
But the satisfaction of egg farming and having her family near her makes it worthwhile. “I love that we have this humble little egg that is packed with nutrition and is so versatile to cook with that we can provide to consumers.”
And, despite the challenges, David inherited the family’s love of egg farming. “The system of supply management gave him the confidence to come back to the farm,” she says.
And she hopes the system doesn’t change so the farm can continue to stay in family hands.
“I would love to see the eleventh generation embrace farming … and take that joy and pride that we have,” says Newcombe.
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